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Elegant Elder in the Arts: WV State Fair Celebrates 95 Years!

“Art” is a diverse range of human activities creating visual, auditory or performing artifacts (artworks), expressing the author’s imaginative, conceptual ideas, or technical skill, intended to be appreciated for their beauty or emotional power. Art takes many forms leaving the creator, mark and impression.

Our appreciation of “art” and works of art has subtly expanded in the last century to greatly expand its diverse range.

The State Fair of West Virginia is, in itself a “work of art”, with a history, integrity and grassroots inclusion of so many West Virginia art forms. The heritage arts of handcrafting, animal husbandry, food preservation, farming and performance arts, both local and worldwide are well represented every year the State Fair of West Virginia opens its gates.

Here is a short but not inclusive list of how this Elegant Elder in the Arts represents our Mountain State: Craft. Animal Husbandry. Culinary arts. Performing Arts. Construction Arts. Farming Arts. Technological Arts and SO MUCH MORE!

The Declaration of Independence was only 78 years old when the first recorded fair was conducted in Greenbrier Valley, VA. In 1854 the Greenbrier Agricultural Society began organizing and having an annual fair where agricultural accomplishments could be displayed. This popular event attracted entries of livestock, produce, and household items from farms throughout the area.

Please note: When talking about fair history – it is important to note that the fair paused from 1942-1945 for World War II – while starting in 1921 – making this the 95th fair.

First Fair

The first fair was conducted at Mr. Nesmith’s Grove on approximately 2 acres of land. The location of this event was determined by current historians to be at the corner of Washington and Lee Streets in Lewisburg about 150’ northeast of the present location of Lewisburg United Methodist Church. The Declaration of Independence was only 78 years old when the first recorded fair was conducted in Greenbrier Valley, VA. In 1854 the Greenbrier Agricultural Society began organizing and having an annual fair where agricultural accomplishments could be displayed. This popular event attracted entries of livestock, produce, and household items from farms throughout the area.

The judges that year rendered awards for the various Classes of Animals, cattle: cows, bulls, heifers, steers and oxen; horses: stallions, brood mares, saddle mares, colts, jacks, jennets and mules; sheep; & chickens. Also included in the judged entries were agricultural implements: plows, ox yoke & wheat fans; fruits & dairy products; household manufactures: quilts, woolen items, embroidery, bread, corned beef, & bacon ham; and finally, domestic manufactures: bureaus, bed stands, saddles, harnesses, flour, cooking stoves, oil painting and penmanship. In 1858 the Lewisburg event gained the distinction of being called “a fair of proportions”.

A fair of proportions

Over the years contracting national entertainers to perform began when the gates opened to the fair in 1921. Showcased during that finrst exhibition was Harry Wheadon in his Sensational Novelty Slack Wire Act; the Roza Rentz Trio featuring one lady and two gentlemen in mid-air attractions; Robin, King of the Comedy Jugglers; and a nightly finale by Pain’s Fireworks which proclaimed “nothing like it has ever been seen in West Virginia.”

Fair officials took great pride in offering the finest entertainment each year. It was considered a goal to always provide amusements that were wholesome, educational, and good, clean fun. No unlawful concessions or suggestive shows were allowed. Many types of entertainment were represented at the Fair and leading performers or well-known groups appeared in concerts or shows throughout the duration of the fair.

Becoming The State Fair

The Greenbrier Valley Fair was one of the state’s most popular events and every year it attracted thousands of people to animal shows, carnival excitement, grandstand entertainment, races, exhibits, special contests, and much more. This made the annual event an end-of-summer celebration for families from West Virginia and surrounding states.

On March 19, 1941, the State Legislature, realizing the Fair’s tremendous popularity and potential, passed an act that designated the Greenbrier Valley Fair as the State Fair of West Virginia.

Each year the Fair opens with new excitement, new shows, new foods, and the same feeling of being at an old-time event. Since 1921 the State Fair of West Virginia has been a family event and it will continue to be for years to come.

Don’t miss summer’s greatest adventure at the 95th annual State Fair of West Virginia. For more historical information, visit statefairofwv.com.

– Diana Hunt, HashtagWV #116. August 2019.

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HashtagWV Art & Entertainment is a high-quality print and digital multimedia platform for all things West Virginia and the greater Appalachian region. The editorial focus is local music, unique shopping, the arts, events, theatre, and food and drinks. tiktok.com/@hashtagwv

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